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25 Brutally Honest Confessions From Relationship Counselors

We won't tell you whether you should break up.

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Special thanks to the couples therapists who provided intel and anecdotes for this post: Irina Firstein, LCSW, Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW, and Jean Fitzpatrick, LP.

1. We aren't judges and therapy isn't a courtroom.

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Don't come in looking for a professional tiebreaker. We're not there to tell clients who's right and wrong — we're there to help nurture a respectful, satisfying relationship that will, in turn, nurture both partners.

2. And we also won't tell couples whether they should break up.

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We rarely make that suggestion — it has to come from them. Unless it's a dangerous situation, our job is to ask the hard questions at appropriate times so partners can come to their own conclusions.

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3. The most common reason couples come in is because they have "communication problems" — and that means something different for everyone.

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BUT it pretty much boils down to a common theme: People need to be heard, and they need someone to create space for them to be heard and to help them express themselves. That's where we come in.

4. It's not our job to change either partner.

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Obviously, clients can both learn how to better communicate, understand each other, and be healthy and supportive partners. However, if you're clashing over differences in personalities, goals, values, or beliefs, well...we can't change those things. So we work with clients on figuring out what is a deal-breaker, and what you can work through together and compromise on.

5. Most of the time, there's not one "problem person" in a couple — it's how both people are together.

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Think of it like bleach and ammonia. On their own, they work just fine. But when you mix them, they become toxic and dangerous.

6. But of course, sometimes, one person is the source of most of a relationship's problems.

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Sometimes we see couples where one person is obviously already checked out and ready to end the relationship. Sometimes one person is combative and uncooperative. And sometimes, yes, we see abusive situations.

In this way, couples therapy can be a gateway to individual therapy for the person that needs it — like, maybe they have issues with anger, self-esteem, jealousy, or substance abuse.

7. We see people who have fallen out of love all the time, and it's actually not always a deal-breaker.

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We expect this to happen from time to time in a long-term relationship. Love isn't just a ~feeling~ — it's a choice you continue to make. When a partner falls out of love, that's a signal that they need to focus on the quality of their connection. We see partners fall back in love all the time, too.

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8. If you come to see us, you should be prepared to talk about how you are contributing to the relationship's problems.

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The prospect of facing your negative behavior is scary, we know. But nobody is a perfect partner, and our job is to help flesh that out and bring it to your attention.

9. Too many people wait until their relationship is imploding to go to therapy and we really, really wish they wouldn't.

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If your leg is broken, you don't walk around on it for a week before going to the doctor. So why would you wait until your relationship is nearly over before getting help? Instead, don't be afraid to look into it as soon as a problem starts popping up regularly without resolution — not as a last-ditch effort when you've started to hate each other.

10. Sometimes couples break up during sessions.

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We imagine the car ride home is very awkward. (But hey, sometimes they call us up to reschedule after getting back together a few days later.)

11. We're only human so yup, we get frustrated when clients don't take responsibility for their actions, or challenge our authority or are rude to us.

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It's natural to want to get defensive and push back when we're telling you things you don't want to hear, so we understand. But that doesn't mean it's not annoying when clients interrupt us, brush off our observations, or argue with us.

12. We also get caught in the crossfire a lot when patients take out their anger and frustration on us.

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Some couples are uncomfortable directing their feelings at each other, and so they'll direct it at us instead. It's uncomfortable and it sucks, but we eventually work through figuring out where those feelings should be directed.

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13. And yeah, sometimes we don't like our clients. But luckily, that's pretty rare.

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Every now and then, we do get people who are really hard to deal with for a variety of reasons. They don’t take responsibility. They blame their partner. They blame us. They have a big ego. They have a big chip on their shoulder. They’re narcissistic. They're rude. Etc., etc., etc. Fortunately, a lot of us are very lucky and have positive relationships with most of our clients.

14. Needing therapy isn't a sign of failure, or a sign that you should just break up.

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A lot of people will think, "OK, well, if things are bad enough that we need therapy, then maybe we should just break up." And that's not the case at all. Needing a little bit of professional help is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Instead, look at it this way: Going to a couples counselor is going to make you better. It’s going to make you healthier on some level. Taking responsibility for your life and relationship is a good thing.

15. In fact, conflict in a relationship isn't a bad thing and couples therapy gives you a chance to be a better partner and know each other more deeply.

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EVERY relationship is going to have conflict. That's normal. And if you happen to deal with that conflict with the help of an expert, you’re going to learn things that you might not have thought about, or you’re going to get something validated. And that's never a bad thing.

16. We probably won't "fire" a client or deem them a lost cause — but we miiight suggest they try individual therapy for a while before circling back to us.

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Some clients don't make progress because they're stuck in the same thought or behavior patterns or refuse to participate, and although we won't say, "I can't help you," we might say, "If we can't break this pattern, I don't think I'm the right therapist for you," or "I don't think this is the right time to have couples therapy."

17. We don't answer clients when they ask, "Do you think we can make it?"

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Sometimes, OK, we have a gut feeling that a relationship probably will end. But we're also not fortune-tellers, and so much depends on what our clients are willing to put in and how much they're willing to compromise.

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18. Same goes for, “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” or "Are we the worst case you've ever seen?"

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The things is, there aren't really answers to those questions. Comparing the problems of our clients is like apples and oranges, and "worst" is really subjective.

19. Just going to therapy won't necessarily help; you have to participate.

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People expect to just show up and for us to magically fix their relationships, but nope. You have to check your ego at the door. Come in and be humble, trust the process, and be willing to learn and grow. Otherwise, don’t bother.

20. You shouldn't expect fast changes if you're working on deep-rooted patterns that have been a problem for years.

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Some people just have a lot of baggage, bad habits, and other shit to work through — which is totally human and takes some time.

21. That said, for some people, therapy doesn't have to be a long-term commitment.

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Sometimes, all a couple needs is a few sessions with a mediator in order to feel validated, or to have a safe space to talk about an issue they've been afraid to bring up.

22. Being a relationship therapist doesn't automatically mean we have great love lives ourselves.

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People ALWAYS assume our relationships or marriages are perfect — but really, it just means we're better equipped to understand and deal with our problems, not that we don't have them in the first place.

23. Some of the most valuable things we teach clients are little ways to incorporate connection and gratitude into their relationships.

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For a relationship to improve in a sustainable, real way, you have to think about it like a lifestyle change, not a diet. That means that therapy isn't about doing a few exercises and having a few homework assignments. It's about learning life-changing behaviors — like setting aside time to be together, turning off your phone when you're catching up, adding small moments of affection — that kind of thing.

24. Frankly, the job can be very hard and draining.

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It’s difficult to see people in so much pain. Not only that, but you’re sitting with people in their pain and you’re working hard to try to figure out how to help them. A lot of times, the answers aren't simple.

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